The Bears front office was destroyed for not being wheelers and dealers during the summer’s free agency free-for-all. But looking at the Sunday to Sunday contributors for this very good football team makes it evident there was a method to the perceived madness at Halas Hall. (I am leaving the draft choices out of this discussion as I like to give those guys a year or two to assimilate.)
- The Annexation of Greg Olsen. Many criticized the move but elevating Kellen Davis and adding Matt Spaeth has led to a more powerful running game on the perimeter and little-to-no decrease in passing production.
- The Annexation of Olin Kreutz. The Bears saw more than I did when they slid Roberto Garza to the center position. He’s been shaky in pass protection but strong in the run and overall been a far better center in 2011 than Kreutz was in 2010. This move also led to the signing Chris Spencer, adding toughness and guts to the right guard position. The leadership was replaced by the guy taking the snaps.
- When Amobi Okoye started seeing action for the Bears during the second halves of preseason games it was apparent he could be a factor at the defensive tackle position. Now Okoye has surpassed Henry Melton as the Bears most consistent threat in the middle of the line.
- Jerry Angelo grabbed Tyler Clutts the second he could and Clutts is a real life fullback. Fullbacks are about toughness. They’re about hitting defenders in the mouth and imposing your will at the point of impact. Clutts is a damn good player and a fitting Chicago Bears.
- No Big Money Linebacker. We all thought the Bears would go out and make a move for one of the price tag linebackers on the market, i.e. Stephen Tulloch. They didn’t and they’ve been rewarded by Nick Roach improving week after week throughout the year.
- The Dallas Trio. Marian Barber looks revitalized in Chicago since returning from injury, providing for Forte what Cedric Benson provided for Thomas Jones in 2006. Sam Hurd has made the loss of Rashied Davis, specifically on special teams, an afterthought. I’ll get to Roy Williams in a bit.
- Adam Podlesh has not provided the leg strength I thought we’d see but he’s avoided the Brad Maynard deep zone shanks that had plagued our specials for the last few years. Podlesh provides consistency.
- The safety position has been the source of this team’s most public turmoil but the signing of Brandon Meriweather, while at first looking like a mistake, is turning into a savvy move. It took Meriweather time to become acquainted with the system and relinquish his reckless style but Sunday he played his best game as a Bear and has given them depth at a position where they had none in August.
- Dane Sanzenbacher looked like the second coming of Mike Haas throughout training camp: the white receiver fans love that ends up signing in the CFL. I didn’t quite understand Dane’s impact until Earl Bennett returned from injury. Cutty needed a receiver to cross the middle of the field, especially in the red zone, as Earl got his ribs back into shape. Dane fit the bill.
Were there bad moves? Well, one.
- Roy Williams. I was not one of those people who believed Mike Martz when he said Roy Williams was going to catch 80 balls and have a number one receiver-type season. And I understand there was minimal risk to signing Roy to a contract worth little more than a million dollars. But the Roy Williams signing was a mistake for two reasons: (1) it has stunted the growth of Johnny Knox at WR. Knox showed once against Sunday he is the most explosive receiver the Bears have. I have a feeling Cutty doesn’t love him but the Bears should have been targeting him from the first week of the season. (2) Plaxico Burress. I was a lone man on the island calling for the Bears to sign Plax as all you moralists rested safely atop your high horses. Give Jay Cutler and his naturally rising fastball a monster target like Plax and you’d see one of the most lethal combinations in the league. Plax is a touchdown machine for an offensively-challenged Jets team and saves Mark Sanchez on two or three passes a game. Either way I can’t imagine a scenario where Roy returns to Chicago next year.
It wasn’t the type of off-season that yields stars and the Bears have proven on the field they didn’t require a star infusion to be competitive at the highest level. But what Jerry Angelo, Tim Ruskell and the folks at Halas Hall did was build the kind of roster depth that can win championships. Maybe not this season. But soon.